Casten seeking second term after 'awesome, humbling' first months in Congress

It was one of his talking points on the campaign trail last year and it hasn't gone away.

Climate change is an "existential threat" to human life, 6th District U.S. Rep. Sean Casten says, and it's the problem around which he's built a career.

But now, instead of addressing climate change as the head of his own business, the Downers Grove Democrat is attacking the issue as a politician representing a large swath of the West and Northwest suburbs.

"It is both awesome and humbling and somewhat frustratingly slow," he said of working on his top issue as a member of Congress.

"It's awesome and humbling because I've been able to make a pretty meaningful difference on some stuff early on," Casten said. "It's one thing to say on the campaign trail, 'We've got issues' ... It's something else entirely to actually be able to go out and get a bill together."

During his first six months in office, Casten has worked with others to introduce at least two bills he says will address underlying issues related to a warming climate.

One would help increase storage on the electric grid for renewable energy. Another would require companies to disclose to investors the way the effects of climate change - such as water shortages, extreme weather patterns, or lower demand for carbon-emitting energy forms - could hurt their bottom line.

He said these bills, both of which are under discussion at the committee level, could increase renewable energy generation and help people learn how climate change will affect the economy. The trick, though, will be getting legislators to understand why they need to be passed now.

"For us to deal with the climate crisis in front of us, we need to both recognize the urgency of the problem and the complexity of our energy system," Casten said. "There are not nearly enough voices that acknowledge that both of those things have to be dealt with."

His ability to be one of those voices gets to the root of why Casten, a 47-year-old father of two, is seeking a second term. He's doing so after beating longtime Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton last November to flip a typically conservative district into Democrats' control.

Aside from climate change, Casten says he's helped make progress on bills the House has passed related to lowering pharmaceutical prices, defending the Affordable Care Act, publicly funding elections, ending partisan electoral mapmaking and ensuring equality for people in the LGBTQ community. Although he said the bills have not been called in the Senate, he sees them as good steps forward.

"We're making great progress," Casten said, "and I want to be here not just to see the process, but to see it through and make sure it's done the right way."

Casten's opponent from the Republican Party could be former Wheaton City Council member and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, who held the statewide position during former Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration. Or it could be former Wheaton City Council member, state representative and gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives, who ran against Rauner in the 2018 primary.

Casten campaign spokeswoman Chloe Hunt said in a news release that both potential Republican challengers would take opposite stands from Casten on issues such as abortion and taxes.

"Jeanne Ives and Evelyn Sanguinetti both embrace an extreme partisan ideology that would deny a woman's right to choose and raise our health care costs," Hunt said. "They both strongly support President Trump and they both are wildly out of touch with the concerns of the 6th Congressional District."

Ives launched her campaign by filing a statement of candidacy July 18 with the Federal Election Commission. Sanguinetti has been campaigning since April.

Sanguinetti's campaign has criticized Casten for being "out of touch" with his constituents, for rubber-stamping priorities of House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi instead of being "a centrist," and for saying he wants to open an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Casten's camp says he has hosted nine town halls to stay in touch with constituents, along with recent in-district events on climate change and immigration, and he stands by his votes, as well as his position on impeachment.

Opening an impeachment inquiry is not so much about Trump, himself, Casten says, but about ensuring agents of the federal government do not conspire with foreign powers to undermine elections. Failing to hold government officials accountable if such conduct occurred could threaten American democracy, Casten said. That's why he says an impeachment investigation should not be a partisan issue.

"The issue that we have right now is not about the president," he said. "This is about making sure that no one is above the law and our principles are upheld."

While Casten backs up his view on impeachment, he's receiving criticism from Republican groups for his stances on other topics.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, for example, is calling out Casten and fellow freshman U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of the 14th District for votes related to military spending, saying they both are playing to a "socialist base" and putting "partisan extremism ahead of the safety of our brave troops."

Casten said it seems to be the strategy of every GOP campaign - his potential opponents included - to attack all Democrats as socialists. He said he would rather debate issues such as women's rights (he says he's "unabashedly pro-choice") or Trump's job performance (he says the president has done "massive damage on our Democracy") than defend against generalizations made by Sanguinetti's campaign that he says portray the candidate's obedience to the party line.

"Democracy works best in the way our founders intended when you have a debate in the public forum about deeply held ideas and convictions," Casten said.

"We have an obligation as public officials to be deeply honest about where our beliefs and morals are."

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Closely watched, bitterly fought

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  After supporters sent Democrat Sean Casten to the U.S. House representing the 6th District, he now is seeking to retain his seat in the 2020 election. Bev Horne/ November 2018
Former state Rep. Jeanne Ives could be U.S. Rep. Sean Casten's Republican opponent in 2020.
Former Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti could be U.S. Rep. Sean Casten's Republican opponent in 2020.

6th District fundraising

6th District opponents Rep. Sean Casten, a Downers Grove Democrat, and former Wheaton City Council member and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, a Wheaton Republican, are raising money for their 2020 campaigns for the U.S. House. Here is a look at their fundraising and spending during the second quarter, which ended June 30.

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Total receipts: $737,693.02

Total spending: $154,648.60

Cash on hand: $898,888.99

Note: Casten's campaign has raised $1,059,122.27 during all of 2019

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Total Receipts: $103,647.38 (including a $5,600 loan from the candidate)

Total spending: $33,776.93

Cash on hand: $69,870.45

Note: Sanguinetti launched her campaign April 22

Source: Federal Election Commission filings

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